|By Corporal William Young|
I used to work with a gentleman that lived on a small acreage about 40 minutes outside of town with his wife and young daughter. It was a beautiful place. He would always talk about how much work he had done to his house. He would talk about the new tile in the shower and how he had refinished all the wood work. He would talk about how much he enjoyed mowing his grass and how someday he was going to restore an old Massey-Fergusson and ride it in the 4th of July parade. He would talk about how much he loved his little girl. He would talk about how much he looked forward to seeing her chubby little face every day.
One day he shared his nightly routine with me. He said every night after dinner he would thank his wife for the meal and kiss his little girl on the forehead before retiring to the barn. He had talked about his barn before and it sounded amazing. It was like a small apartment. He said it had a living room area with a big old comfy couch and nice flat screen TV hanging on the wall. And in the middle of the living room there was faux bear skin rug and a coffee table he said he had made out of some old fence pickets and a shipping crate. He had talked about a bar in the barn and how he would pour himself a glass of whiskey before he flipped on the TV. He said he would flip on the TV and plop himself down on the couch. Then he would set his glass of whiskey down on the table and he would reach between the couch cushion and the arm rest and he would pull out his .38 revolver. He told me how he would pull out his revolver and he would pop open the cylinder. He said that every night he would pull six bullets out of his pocket and slide them into the cylinder. Then he would sit. He said that he would sit and drink and try to think of six reasons to not blow his brains out. He said that for every reason he could come up with he would remove a bullet from the cylinder. When his glass of whiskey was empty, he would put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. He admitted that some nights the reasons to live were easier to think of than others.
I listened as he told me with a straight face about his routine. I couldn’t understand why a guy that seemed to have everything felt like he had nothing. I mean, I have been depressed before, but never “put a gun in my mouth” depressed. How could anyone do that?
Then I thought about my own routine.
After a twelve-hour shift I head to the big box taco shop and order seven or eight items and a large diet soda. Then I go home, turn on my TV, and plop down on my couch. I wolf down my midnight Mexican meal and head to the kitchen. I pour myself a glass of whiskey and use it to chase four ibuprofens and my blood pressure medication. Then it’s back to the couch where I sit until 4 in the morning. About 4, I head back to the kitchen to eat a couple of bowls of cereal before climbing into bed. Three hours later my alarm goes off and it’s time to get up and get the kiddos ready for school. I cook up a cup of coffee and microwave a breakfast sandwich while I wait for the kids to get ready. After I drop them off, it’s back to the couch where I think about getting up and being productive. I do some of my best thinking on the couch. I think about how I need to work out more and eat better and that I should get up and finally hang the door in the master bath. I think about my wife and my kids and how much I love them. About 11 o’clock I fall asleep on the couch. At 1 o’clock my alarm goes off and I start to get ready for work. I throw on my shirt and suck in my gut so that I can buckle my pants. I let out a loud exhale, say that it’s ridiculous that my pants don’t fit and swear that I’m going to lose some weight. I slip on my boots and head out the door. On the way to work I stop at a big box burger shop and grab three double cheeseburgers and a diet soda. I feel a little silly getting three double cheeseburgers, but I’m tired and I’m sick of working third shift, so who cares. I just eat two and save the other one for later.
The truth is my routine is no less deadly or dangerous than the one of the gentleman I mentioned earlier. We’re both in a way killing ourselves. It’s just that I’m using burritos instead of bullets.
A lot of my fellow Officers have similar routines. We work long hours in a stressful environment that leaves us little to no time to take care of ourselves mentally or physically. Fatigue sets in and we spiral downwards or out of control. We start to use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol or sleeping pills or food to give us temporary relief and instant satisfaction. We isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and conduct ourselves in a reckless manner. The disturbing thing is that most of us, if not all of us, know that we are participating in these destructive behaviors—and yet we continue.
See, there is no big difference between the guy with the gun and the pre-diabetic working on his fifth piece of pizza, even though the majority of us think that there is. The truth is that they are both on the verge of destroying themselves. Yet we think that because we’re not sitting alone in the dark clutching a firearm that how we choose to cope is okay, and that this job doesn’t affect us. We ignore the symptoms and the signs and the suggestions and we say that nothing bothers us. If nothing bothers us, then explain the days when we drive home on the verge of tears because of what we’ve seen or what was said. Explain the days when we can’t pull ourselves out of bed. Explain the weight gain and the lack of sleep. If nothing bothered us, then we would not have subscribed to this newsletter, and we would not have read this much of an article about this sort of thing.
We need to think about the bullets and the burritos and figure out where we are on that scale. Do some soul searching and look for our six reasons to get off the couch. Find our six reasons to stop drinking and overeating, and use them as motivation to live a more fulfilling life. If we don’t have six, then choose one. Choose one thing that is worth fighting for. Choose one person that loves us and wants us to live a longer and healthier life. Think of them when we’re alone in the dark. Let them be our light when we cannot find one.
Editor’s note: If you are experiencing emotional distress or a crisis, please reach out. Call your agency’s EAP or Peer support team, Safe Call Now at 206-459-3020, or the LIFELINE at 1-800-273-8255.
This article as been reprinted with permission from the February 2018 Issue of Correctional Oasis, a monthly e-publication of "Desert Waters Correctional Outreach".
Corporal William Young is a 13 year veteran of the Douglas County Department of Corrections in Omaha, Nebraska. Battling Fatigue himself, Officer Young is determined to assist his fellow brothers and sisters by helping them identify, manage, and reverse the damaging side effects and symptoms of working in such an environment. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency.
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